Azerbaijan International

Summer 2004 (12.2)

The Ali and Nino Walking Tour
by Betty Blair and Fuad Akhundov

Fillifpojanz Coffee Shop
Alizade 5
(Pre-Soviet: Baryatinskaya Street)

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This building was constructed in 1901 by architects A.N. Kalgin and G.M. Ter Mikalov, who also designed the Philharmonic Hall. The façade itself identifies the building as the Tiflis Bank but there was an entrance to the Fillifpojanz Coffee House, a coffee shop that sold pastries.

Sitting in the plush seats in one of the booths, Ali pours out his heart describing one of the bitterest disappointments that he had ever faced in life-refusal by Nino's parents to let Ali marry her. Although Nino's parents (Christian Georgians) balk at her wanting to marry Ali (Azerbaijani Muslim), they don't use religion as an excuse for refusing Ali. Totally shattered when Nino's parents reject his proposal, Ali confides with Nachararyan (Christian Armenian) about the excuses her parents were offering related to her relatively young age and the uncertainty of the regional political situation. Ali considered Nachararyan a friend, but later realized that trusting this Armenian was a serious misjudgment.

From "Ali & Nino", pp. 106 ff.
Let's go to Fillifpojanz, Nachararyan said. I nodded. It didn't matter to me. He took my hand and led me along Baryatinsky Street to the big coffee house. When we sank into the deep chairs, he said understandingly: "Amok, Caucasian amok! It's probably this oppressive heat. Or is there any special reason, Ali Khan, that makes you rush about raging like that?"

I sat in the coffee house in the room with soft chairs and walls covered with red silk, sipped hot tea and told Nachararyan the whole story: how I had telephoned the old Kipianis, asking to be received today, how Nino had tiptoed out of the house, stealthily and afraid, how I had kissed the Princess' hand and shaken hands with the Prince, how I had spoken of our ancient family tree and of my family's revenues, how I had asked for the Princess Nino's hand in marriage and all that in such perfect Russian that even the Czar might have envied me.
"And then, my friend?" Nachararyan seemed very interested indeed.

"And then? Just listen to this!" I imitated the Prince's movements and his voice with its slight Georgian accent: "My dear son, esteemed Khan. Please believe me, I could not imagine a better husband for my child. What happiness for a woman to be chosen by a man of your character.

But there is Nino's age. After all, she is still a schoolgirl. What does a child like that know of love? Surely, we are not going to have the Indian child marriage system here. And then the differences in religion, upbringing, descent. I say this for your own sake as well as for hers. I'm sure your father thinks the same. And then: these times, this terrible war. God knows what will become of us all. I don't want to stand in her way. But let's just leave it like that for the moment; let's leave it till the end of the war. You'll both be older then. And if you then feel as strongly about it as you do today, we can have another talk."

"And what will you do now, Khan?" asked Nachararyan.

"Kidnap Nino and take her to Persia. I can't take this lying down. To say 'No' to a Shirvanshir! Who does he think he is? I feel dishonored, Nachararyan. The House of Shirvanshir is older than the Kipianis. Under Agha Mohammad Shah, we destroyed the whole of Georgia. Then any Kipiani would have been only too pleased to give his daughter to a Shirvanshir. What does he mean 'difference in religion'? Is Christianity better than Islam?
And my honor? My own father will laugh at me. A Christian refuses me his daughter. We Muslims are wolves who have lost their teeth. A hundred years ago...

My fury choked me and stopped my outburst. Just as well-already I had said much that would better have been left unsaid. Nachararyan was a Christian, too. He had ever right to feel insulted. But he was not.

"I understand your rage," he said. But he has not refused you. Of course, it is ridiculous to wait for the end of the war. He just cannot realize that his daughter has grown up. I'm not against kidnapping her. It is an old, well-established way of settling things, quite in the tradition of our country. But surely it is a last resort. Somebody should explain to the Prince the cultural and political significance of this marriage. I'm sure he'd come around then."

"But who would do that?"

Nachararyan clapped his broad palm on his breast and cried: "I will. Depend on me, Khan!"

I looked at him, astonished. What did this Armenian have in mind? It was the second time he had interfered in my life. Maybe he was trying to make friends among the Muslims, seeing that the Turks were advancing. Or maybe he really planned to form an Alliance of the Caucasian People. I did not care. Obviously, he was an ally. I gave him my hand. He kept it in his: "Just leave it to me. I'll keep you informed. And no kidnapping. Only as a last resort."

I got up. I had a strong feeling that I could trust this fat man. I embraced him and left the coffee house.

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